Clubhouse Chatter: Analyzing The Bradley Deal
Bradley brings his five-tools to Oakland.
Bradley brings his five-tools to Oakland.
Columnist
Posted Dec 14, 2005


Like so many children will on Christmas morning, Oakland A’s fans received the gift of Milton Bradley on Tuesday. GM Billy Beane put on his trade wizard hat and swapped OF prospect Andre Ethier for the talented Bradley and IF Antonio Perez. Coupled with the signing of Esteban Loaiza, the A’s have had an unusual off-season of addition rather than subtraction. So how will these new acquisitions fit into the A’s 2006 picture? And how does the loss of Ethier affect the A’s minor league system?

The Bradley and Perez Effect

The Players

We begin by analyzing what the A’s gained in this trade because, well, it is always more fun to talk about what you have rather than what you have given up. In Bradley, the A’s have received a five-tool talent who can hit in the second, third or fourth place in the batting order. Bradley brings with him a well-trained batting eye, good gap power, good speed and an excellent outfield glove. He also brings with him a long history of controversial situations, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on his on-field attributes because we believe it is best not to judge a person’s character before we get a chance to meet said person.

Bradley has never lived up to his immense potential, in large part due to injuries. In 2003, he looked to be well on his way to a breakout season, but it was cut short after 98 games. That season displayed everything Bradley could be, however. He hit .321 with a .421 on-base percentage and a 922 OPS. He also stole 17 bases and drove in 56 runs (a 93 RBI pace for a full season). In 2004, Bradley helped lead the Dodgers to the playoffs, playing in a career-high 141 games. His 2005 season began strong, posting a 911 OPS in April. He had an 802 OPS in May and then injuries destroyed his June and July. He was playing well in August (909 OPS) before his knee injury shelved him for the year. In the end, Bradley was only able to play in 75 games, posting an 835 OPS.

Bradley is a switch-hitter and is probably best-suited to hit in the second spot in the order, although the A’s might hit him third unless they acquire another big hitter along the lines of Frank Thomas. He hits righties and lefties well (over the past three years, he has posted a 907 OPS against lefties and an 816 OPS against righties). The A’s will have to keep a close eye on Bradley’s health and will likely try to DH him once every week or two to save his legs. This is where the A’s depth in the outfield will come in handy. Bradley can play all three outfield positions, although Oakland will probably limit Bradley’s time in center until his knee, which was surgically operated on in August, is fully healed (after which time he can spell Kotsay in center when Kotsay needs a breather).

In Perez, the A’s get another toolsy player who will add depth to the team in the interim and could be an everyday player in the long-run. Perez has above-average power for a middle infielder, great speed and he can hit for average. He can also play second, third and short, although he will never be confused with a Gold Glover at any of those positions (he is a classic Ron Washington project). Last season, his first extended look at the major league level, Perez hit .297 with a .360 on-base percentage and 11 stolen bases in 98 games.

The Depth

Last year, the A’s were shut-out of the playoffs, in large part, due to a long list of injuries. It appears that this off-season, GM Billy Beane has set out to ensure that injuries do not handicap the team again in 2006. First, Beane signed free agent starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza. While we have made the argument that the A’s overpaid for Loaiza, money aside, there is no question that his addition adds to the depth of the A’s pitching staff.

With Loaiza on-board, the A’s have seven legitimate starting pitchers for five starting spots. Two of those pitchers, Joe Kennedy and Kirk Saarloos, will be in the A’s bullpen and will serve as insurance in case any of the A’s five starters is struck by injuries, as they have been in each of the past two seasons. (We wouldn’t be surprised if either Kennedy or Saarloos is moved before the start of the season, but we’ll assume that they are going to stay for now.) The A’s have also added to their pitching depth with a pair of shrewd minor league acquisitions in Matt Roney and Chad Gaudin, two pitchers who could easily step into a major league role if injuries necessitated it.

On the offensive-side of the ball, Beane has now created similar insurance policies for some of his more fragile position players. The A’s were hampered offensively and defensively by the on-going back ailment of centerfielder Mark Kotsay, the shoulder injury of third baseman Eric Chavez and the myriad of maladies of shortstop Bobby Crosby. While it may seem counter-intuitive to say that a player with the injury history of Milton Bradley is a good insurance policy against injury, he actually will be.

The A’s now have five legitimate major league outfielders: Bradley, Kotsay, Jay Payton, Nick Swisher and Bobby Kielty. Swisher is capable of playing first base as well as outfield, so he will likely be moved to first at times (with Dan Johnson moving to DH). On a normal day, we imagine that the starting outfield will be Payton-Kotsay-Bradley with Swisher at first and Johnson at DH. If the A’s are facing a tough left-handed pitcher, the A’s will likely go with the same outfield and put Bobby Kielty at DH or rest Kotsay and put either Payton or Bradley in center and have Kielty in the outfield, Swisher at first and Johnson at DH. Or the A’s can DH Swisher, put Kielty in left and Johnson at first. And so on. As you can see, there are options and all of these players will get plenty of playing time and rest.

Taking it one step further, if the A’s sign Frank Thomas, they will be able to play the same rotation game, with Thomas getting a number of the at-bats that Kielty would have received in the above scenario, plus some of Swisher and Johnson’s at-bats. In both situations, the A’s can give all of their outfielders/first basemen/ designated hitters ample rest and they won’t be significantly weakened if any of these players has to miss a week or two of action at any one time.

In the infield, Perez strengthens the bench and gives the A’s more pinch-hitting and pinch-running options. He should be all of the things that Keith Ginter was supposed to be last season and wasn’t, with the addition of blazing speed. Perez will help Marco Scutaro back-up the A’s infielders. Perez brings more offensively to the table than Scutaro and could conceivably step into an everyday role if Crosby, Chavez or Mark Ellis were to go down with a serious injury. He will also give the A’s more speed off of the bench at the end of close games (if the A’s acquire Thomas, pinch-running will be an important part of the A’s end of game strategies).

Let’s take a look at a probable 25-man roster, as it stands now:

1) Nick Swisher (1B and all three OF positions) (note: switch-hitter)
2) Dan Johnson (1B and DH)
3) Mark Ellis (2B and SS)
4) Bobby Crosby (SS)
5) Eric Chavez (3B)
6) Jason Kendall (C)
7) Jay Payton (all three OF positions)
8) Mark Kotsay (CF, RF)
9) Milton Bradley (CF, RF) (note: switch-hitter)
10) Bobby Kielty (LF, RF, DH) (note: switch-hitter)*
11) Adam Melhuse (C, emergency 3B/1B) (note: switch-hitter)
12) Antonio Perez (2B, 3B, emergency SS)
13) Marco Scutaro (SS, 2B, 3B)
14) Utilityman (Freddie Bynum, Hiram Bocachica or OF Matt Watson)
15) Barry Zito (SP) (note: lefty)
16) Rich Harden (SP)
17) Dan Haren (SP)
18) Esteban Loaiza (SP)
19) Joe Blanton (SP)
20) Kirk Saarloos (RP, emergency starter)
21) Joe Kennedy (RP, emergency starter) (note: lefty)**
22) Justin Duchscherer (RP, emergency starter/closer)
23) Jay Witasick (RP)
24) Kiko Calero (RP, emergency closer)
25) Huston Street (Closer)

* If Frank Thomas is signed, Thomas would fill Kielty’s DH and pinch-hitting role and the final roster spot would be taken by either Kielty or a utilityman like Bynum and Bocachica or an outfielder like Watson.

** If the A’s trade Kennedy, his lefty relief role would likely be taken by prospect Ron Flores.

What The A’s Gave Up

The saying goes that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and the A’s certainly had to pay for their prime rib dinner. If you have been reading this site for the past year, you are very familiar with the outstanding exploits of Andre Ethier in 2005. With the possible exception of Kevin Melillo, Ethier did more than any other prospect in the A’s system to raise his profile this season. He began the year as a talented former high round pick (second round, 2003) who was coming off of an injury-shortened 2004 season and ended it as one of the top prospects in the system.

Ethier had back surgery last off-season and the operation appears to have been a great success. He began the season red-hot, hitting .378 in April and .350 in May and, after a rough June, recovered to hit .322 in August and .295 in September. He hit righties very well (.332) and lefties pretty well (.291 with seven of his 18 total homeruns). Ethier struck out a lot (93 times) and didn’t walk that often (48 times), but those were the only blemishs in an otherwise outstanding season.

Ethier has a smooth swing and is an athletic fielder who should have no problem being a top-flight fielding corner outfielder in the pros. The main question about Ethier is his power potential. Despite being well-built, Ethier has never hit as many homeruns as one would think he would based on his build and swing and it isn’t clear whether he will hit with enough power to be an above-average major league corner outfielder. He will probably spend next season in AAA-Las Vegas, a good hitter’s environment, so it will be telling if Ethier doesn’t post big homerun numbers.

What does Ethier’s departure to the overall health of the A’s farm system? Well, there is certainly no question that losing a top-five prospect will hurt the system and Ethier was certainly a top prospect in the A’s system (we had him at number three). However, after many years of having little in the pipeline, the A’s finally have a solid crop of outfield prospects. Five-tool players like Javier Herrera and Richie Robnett are probably the most talented prospects, while Danny Putnam and Travis Buck are polished collegiate hitters. In addition, the A’s have youngsters Ramon Alvarado and Chad Boyd, both of whom showed promise in short-season play and a group of outfielders like Steve Stanley, Brian Stavisky, Watson, Bynum, Bocachica, Charles Thomas and Jason Perry, who could serve bench roles at the major league level in a year or two. In other words, the A’s were dealing from an area of relative strength when they dealt Ethier to the Dodgers.

As for Ethier, he should have a good chance to make an impact with the Dodgers no later than 2007 and more likely sometime after the All-Star break in 2006. The Dodgers have some good minor league outfield prospects, but their major league outfield is relatively thin with JD Drew recovering from injury and Jayson Werth coming off of a down year.

Conclusion

As we are sure you can gather, we are quite pleased with this deal. While it is always a risk to give up a top prospect, the A’s have had a history of dealing top prospects (Jose Ortiz, Angel Berroa, Mario Ramos, to name a few) in an attempt to get better and they have won out on those deals more often then they have lost on them. The A’s have a realistic chance to make a run at a playoff appearance in 2006 and this trade makes that possibility even stronger. We are itching for Opening Day already.



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